RIDE-HAILING companies like Uber and Lyft are loved by city dwellers but may be jamming roads. In midtown and lower Manhattan, cars have slowed from an average speed of 9.1mph (14.6kph) in 2010 to 7.1mph in 2017. Concerned about both traffic jams and falling wages for ordinary taxi drivers, New York’s city council passed a bill on August 8th imposing a one-year moratorium on new licences for hired vehicles.
The measure may not reduce traffic congestion much. Todd Schneider, a computer programmer, has published data collated by New York’s city government on the number of for-hire car journeys by borough. His statistics show that although Uber and Lyft journeys are well up, their impact on congestion in Manhattan has been tempered by the fact that they have put so many taxi drivers out of work. The new car services are more popular in New York’s outer boroughs, where taxis are scarce and speeds generally higher. Uber argues that the council’s cap will reduce the number of cars in the outer boroughs, but not in Manhattan, where drivers can complete more trips per hour.
In March the city approved a flat surcharge on both taxi and for-hire journeys in Manhattan. Critics doubt that this will do much to alleviate New York’s traffic problem, either. It would be much better to nudge travellers to stay away during the busiest hours. Congestion pricing, as the practice is known, has been implemented in London, Stockholm and Singapore. Uber, whose ride-sharing cars would probably face lower charges than taxis under such a policy, is keen to go ahead.
Fix NYC, a task-force focused on fighting traffic jams and improving public transport, recommended in January that New York should introduce a congestion charge that would vary by time of day. That seems a distant prospect. A poll conducted by Quinnipiac University in March showed that 52% of voters living in New York City opposed congestion pricing, whereas just 42% were in favour. Technocrats may like such schemes, but the public seems unwilling to pay to avoid sitting in traffic.
This article is from our print edition.